Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Review: Love Letters to the Dead


It begins as an assignment for English class: Write a letter to a dead person. Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, loved him. And he died young, just like May did. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to people like Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Amelia Earhart, Heath Ledger, and more; though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating new friendships, falling in love for the first time, learning to live with her splintering family. And, finally, about the abuse she suffered while May was supposed to be looking out for her. Only then, once Laurel has written down the truth about what happened to herself, can she truly begin to accept what happened to May. And only when Laurel has begun to see her sister as the person she was; lovely and amazing and deeply flawed; can she begin to discover her own path

There is no doubt comparisons will be made between Love Letters to the Dead and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Both tell stories through letters/journal entries. Both tackle tough subjects. Both are "coming of age" novels. In some instances, the similarities are too obvious, but the Love Letters to the Dead does have its shining moments of brilliance. If it has to be compared to Perks, I would say Love Letters is darker and more suspenseful.

Love Letters to the Dead starts out as an English assignment.  Laurel is told to write a letter to someone dead. She choses to write to Kurt Cobain because he died at a young age, but more importantly, because her sister May loved him. And May is dead. The details of how and why May passed away is clouded in mystery as Laurel pours her heart out to Kurt, Amelia Earnhart, Janis Joplin, Heath Ledger, and Amy Winehouse. There are many beautiful moments, and I cannot deny that I was moved to tears by the end. Laurel's voice is strong, filled with hope and remorse. She's a character that's both strong and weak; she's both complex and flawed. And it's everything I could ever want in a  protagonist.

These letters depict Laurel as she meets new friends, experiences life, and comes to terms with what happened the night May died. These letters were cathartic for Laurel, and there's no doubting the emotional connection I had with every character. One thing that I was disappointed, in, though was the romance. It seemed to happen too fast, and I think that it could have been handled better. I don't think I ever really got a sense of the guy's character, so maybe that's why the romance didn't click.

I also had a hard time believing that Laurel's teacher was as lenient as she was, about returning this assignment. No teacher would have been that understanding, because grades have to be logged in and it would have been unfair to other students. I understand that these letters became a little to personal for Laurel, making it difficult to let someone else read those pages, but a teacher can only be so lenient.

All in all, this was a beautiful piece of literature that deserves the praise it receives.